Gray Area

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I recently saw a woman, not much older than me, crossing Melrose with the most beautiful gray hair. Whether it was natural or she colored it that way, I couldn't tell. She wore a long dress with combat boots and an impeccable smoky eye. My eyes followed her as she walked past, stepped into the street to cross... causing me to accidentally push Fable's stroller straight into a parking meter, spilling apples across the sidewalk from my Farmer's Market bag. Perhaps it was the shock of seeing a visibly "high-maintenance chick" wear something so... un. Like a Hummer rocking a MoveOn.org bumper sticker. She wasn't the usual fare. Her juxtaposition was sexy, even dangerous. She disappeared into a nearby boutique, bag slung effortlessly around her shoulder, the epitome of fierce.

Some women can pull anything off. It has little to do with the way a woman looks but how she perceives herself. Like the age old adage that confidence is the sexiest accessory. And yet, in order to feel confident, most women go to great lengths to change and conceal, cover and even cut off the problem areas that we believe KEEP us from our best selves. If wrinkles distract from a pretty eye, inject them! When hair turns a lighter shade of old, dye that shit! When breasts sag and tummies flab... QUICK! Call a doctor!

Several weeks ago, my mother came up and we chatted about "Going Gray" on Momversationn. The beautiful and talented Alice Bradley had recently decided to let her go gray and wanted to discuss the politics of gray hair, specifically the controversy that surrounds a woman's choice... to let her hair go. The smashing Daphne and her adorable mother joined the conversation which included many a wonderful points made specifically by Alice, re: why a woman's choice to go gray is such a highly controversial one, most of which were left out of the edited vid. (It's hard to narrow down 30+ minutes of conversation into a four minute video. Totally par for the course. Still, I wish the editors would have included some of the more provocative points.) Alice's stories of women questioning her decision to go gray and my mom's run-ins with friends of hers who told her "don't you dare!" when she announced that after coloring her hair for two decades, she had decided to let herself go... gray.

Women were oddly threatened by her decision to grow her hair out naturally. It was like pointing out to the universe that gray hair is what happens to women, to HUMANS, once we reach a certain age. Sometimes even before that. (My mother started to gray in her teens.) She was acquiescing to time in a way women seldom do. Embracing her age visibly, calling attention, in a way, to her peer group's mortality.

If my mom was letting her hair go gray, did that mean she judged other women for coloring theirs?

Of course not! And yet one woman's actions always manage to threaten another woman's choices. Or at the very least, create tension. Why? Because it's so much easier when everyone in the room is on the same page. Has the same style. Hair. Believes in the same God. Gets the same botox in the same problem areas.

I wonder, then, where do we draw the line (hee) between "natural" and "un.."? And why we care so mightily of our peer's choices? Does one woman's decision to get implants change the way we look at our own breasts? Why? Because it sets a bad example to our daughters? Because boobs aren't SUPPOSED to look like that? Because REAL is beautiful? Is that why we shave our armpits? Pluck our eyebrows? Straighten our hair? Is that why we squeeze into spanx, cover pimples with makeup? Fine lines with serums?

We're all doing it, right? Regardless of how drastic the measures.


In the video Alice asked if I'd ever let my hair go gray and I said, "yes. When I'm my mother's age..."

But I don't know if that's true. In the last two years I have found dozens of grays in my bangs - perhaps I'll stick with them for a while. Or perhaps, months from now, I'll dye the whites brown and never look back.

It's easy for me to say that I plan to age gracefully, naturally, but bodies change and so do minds. I can only tell myself, at this moment, what I think I want to hear.

Besides, natural isn't always better. It wasn't for me. And even though there's nothing fake about my breasts, there's nothing real about them either.

And therein lies my point. The grayness of it all. A healthy body image isn't about ignoring what makes us feel insecure. It's about UNDERSTANDING and even embracing why it is we cover up and suck in and tweeze and dye and insert and change. It's about cutting ourselves some slack when we look in the mirror and feel conflicted. Because one woman's desire to change herself is another's self-empowerment through acceptance. We're all different beasts wandering the same pressure cooker - searching for security in a world that makes it difficult to find it.

Regardless of the steps it may take to get there, we should all be so lucky to find ourselves someday confident in our ability to "let go".... Because, really, "I let myself go" is just another way of saying, "I set myself free."

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GGC

44 comments:

Julie @ The Mom Slant | 10:56 AM

Suddenly feeling rather vain in light of my trip to the salon yesterday...

No, not really. Because like you said, we all have those ways in which we've set ourselves free, and it's a matter of feeling comfortable in our own skin. Or hair.

(I haven't watched the Momversation episode yet, but I do hope that Alice characterized going gray as a radical act.)

Becka Robinson | 11:17 AM

First, you and your mom speak sooooo much alike! It's a bit trippy. And adorable. Second, your mom is incredibly gorgeous! Third, my mom still dyes her hair even though at age 53 she would be completely white haired if she let it grow out. (Her side of the family gets gray really early in life). I've been trying to talk her into slowly stepping down into her natural hair color because I think at a point the dye looks awkward. I think in their mid fifties is when dye begins looking strange on older women. Because it's like, your 60. We know you're hair isn't dark chesnut brown. Plus, womens' skin tones change and the dark colors of their youth no longer look "right". I think there's nothing wrong with dyeing your hair. (Mine is dyed red right now even though naturally I'm a brunette, dye is fun.) But I think once women hit that age (and it's different for each) when dye looks unnatural and strange, it's time to let their hair go natural.

MidLyfeMama | 11:20 AM

If my hair were the same color as your mom's I would go gray tomorrow. She has great hair. I have some gray, and currently highlight my hair once every 3rd visit to the hair dresser, which amounts to probably once every 3 months. At some point, when the gray is significant, I will let it go. I know gray hair has more texture than hair with color most of the time, and I will welcome the extra texture, as someone who has baby fine and straight hair.

Ester Jean | 11:35 AM

Ever since I was like, 14 years old, I wished I had your mom's hair color. I am looking forward to having gray hair. I'm 26. I might become uncomfortable with the idea later, but today I preach about how sick our culture of illegal aging is. My mom is 65 and is single for the first time in 40 years. She is the most beautiful woman I know, and it makes me livid when I see all of the advertisements with an airbrushed Diane Keaton promoting an anti-aging creame. Come on, if you don't want wrinkles, I get that. Don't call it "anti-aging." TIME HAPPENS. Good lord.

Anonymous | 12:45 PM

I have quite a bit of gray hair and for now I cut them. I cannot go gray. I am scared of aging it makes me sick to the stomach. The thought of looking "old"really scares me. But that's just me, personally. I didn't want my mom to go gray (which she did, a year ago) because the thought of seeing all those years finally showing on her hair was scary.
Sorry for the rant...
Valentina

andygirl | 12:45 PM

I have a feeling part of the reason so many women color their grey is because of this myth men won't want them trade them in for a younger model. to that I say, well your man is a douche then. ya know?

I have always loved grey hair on women. even since high school when one of my teachers had the most sophisticated grey bob. I just. I want to be her when I'm older.

I'm 30 and colored my hair every color under the sun from the ages of 18 to 29. for fun. now I'm having fun with my natural color. I really hope I feel that way when my hair turns grey.

RFY | 1:00 PM

I have no idea whether I have a gray hair on my head (blond, always highlighted) so I would like to say that I would be comfortable with it if I were to find one.

However, my own mom is 51 and in the process of letting herself go gray and... it freaks my shit out. I support her decision, of course, and think it's pretty awesome, but I am having a hard time dealing with the fact that it signifies an aging process. Definitely it's my issue and not hers (and it probably has something to do with the fact that I turn 30 this year more than anything else).

Great topic!

Anonymous | 1:20 PM

grey hair or white hair, your mom looks very healthy, youthful, and happy. i'm sure you could do the same too.

corrin | 1:33 PM

I'd love to go all gray one day, but I do have two stipulations. 1. I have to be a grandmother (or of a grandmotherly age - which I'm quite liberal with since my own grandmother was 35 when I was born - she was the child bride, not my mother) and 2. I have to have wonderful white gray hair.

Law Mama | 3:18 PM

I'm so conflicted about this issue. For now I don't color at all - I have 5-10 grays here & there, and I just leave them alone. But as I go grayer, I'm not sure that I'll leave them.

The women in my family have taken the tack of going blond as they go gray. My mom does an ashy blond mixed in with the natural gray and it looks fabulous. I think I'd like to do something like that, but I don't know that it works as well for a brunette (which I am). I'm hoping to gray in streaks like my parents did, because I'd rock a gray streak, no problem!

Cynthia | 4:29 PM

Your mother is stunning. I hope my hair looks like that when I one day go gray. But it still makes me a skosh uncomfortable to think about the change. Not because I fear it being gray. It's more like I felt about changing my last name when i got married (which I didn't). There's just something about losing a you that you've been with for so long. I wonder if your mom felt that at all.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 5:01 PM

Really great point, Cynthia. Totally get that and agree... It would be very difficult to change after years of seeing yourself a certain way.

I cried for a week when I got my braces off in 8th grade because I had them for so many years and looked like a stranger, felt like one, too, Like, "who is this weird looking chick without braces? Huh?"

For my mom, I know, it wasn't until her hair went gray that she felt like herself. She truly felt like she had been hiding all these years behind a dye job she felt pressured into from the get. Gray brought out the best in her and she was literally having nightmares that her hair was brown again. For her, the gray was her truth and she got to watch it slowly reveal itself over the year it took her to grow it out. Pretty cool.

xo

cora d | 5:46 PM

Your last sentence nailed it. Love it.

Personally, I started perming my hair about a year ago. I love having curls& feel so good with them. Because of the perming, I can't color my hair so I've had to embarce the gray. It also helps that my hubby likes the gray& would yell at me when I'd pull them out.

Rebecca Faulkner | 6:02 PM

First off, I've said it before, but your mom is a total silver fox. Maybe a snow leopard. I'm not really sure but it's looking more white than I thought! It's hot! My mom's hair is about the color of your mom's but with some gray streaks. I like to think that I'd rock it with a sleek haircut, good makeup and strong sense of fashion.

And you, Rebecca -- if you had a head of gray hair with your current haircut, I think that would look badass.

dna | 6:05 PM

A couple years ago I decided to "let go" of shaving my legs. Unlike you, I have no phobia of body hair, and found shaving a chore and completely unnecessary. I went for years on and off shaving, but from September 2009 to September 2010 I didn't shave once. Shaving my legs became, for me, something of complete vanity that I merely did to fit in to society. So, I did (or didn't) it to show that a woman can be beautiful and confident even if she doesn't fit within the "normal" social constructs.
Be you, and be beautiful doing it!

Anonymous | 8:46 PM

Okay, I have been getting gray hair since I was 17 (or maybe younger). At first I said, "I'll let it go until I absolutely need to dye it." Ten years later and I still don't feel like I've reached that "point." Most of my gray would be in my bangs, if I had bangs, but I don't, so it's sort of a Rogue streak going on - except my hair is so thick that most of the time it's hidden naturally.

That being said, it shocks me how many people - some I barely know - feel they need to comment on my hair and that I should dye it. "Oh, you can get away with that now, since your face is still young, but you'll feel differently in a few years," they say.

I'm sorry, am I twelve? Are people really telling me I'll change my opinions to fit theirs when I "grow up"?

If anything, it's recently reinforced my decision to let my hair do whatever. For one, it'll probably be years more before the gray overwhelms the rest (I have mega thick hair), and if it does? Oh well. Apparently choosing to have my hair go gray is a counterculture and shocking decision. It's punk.

And if I change my mind? That's my business, too.

michaela | 12:12 AM

My hair went grey when I was eighteen (okay fine, seventeen) and since then I've coloured it every second week without a second thought. I had never thought about the vanity of it all until reading this just now. I honestly can't decide if that's perfectly normal or incredibly sad.

spicylikeginger | 12:34 AM

I always hated how my hair was naturally ash toned. I have colored from light blond to dark brown. I finally got sick of growing out two root colors so I stopped and decided to see what my real color looked like. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the silver/white looks really cool next to my natural ashy roots, and I feel lucky for that. My hairstylist said he couldn't match the natural color of my silver/white hair when I asked him to put in more. So I have to wait for it to grow in on its own, and I love how my streak is growing in on the right side of my hairline. Two words, y'all: GO GREY!

Mymsie | 7:53 AM

Funny because I JUST blogged about this very topic: http://mymsie.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/this-could-get-hairy/ I admire women who embrace their gray!

Helen@Leather baby shoes | 8:04 AM

Your mums hair looks great. It might be grey but, it looks silver and has a lovely lustre too it. I'd go that shade of grey tomorrow. My grey is dull and dreary and definitely should be avoided if its at all possible!

Anonymous | 9:24 AM

hi Rebecca, I read ur blog all the time and never comment but this so like me and my mom!She had white hair from the age of 40 and everytime she tried to convince her haidresser to dye it they d refuse!so now it s my turn to be grey and since I have been dying my hair from blond to dark brown since I was 18 it s really hardcore I need to dye them every 15 days!But I m not ready yet to go natural.I think grey hair or white is actully hard to carry if you are not perfectly made up or tanned (I m really pale and live in london) or ultra chic with smocky eyes all the time like Meryl streep in the devil etc !That said your mum is gorgeous.

Lisa | 9:27 AM

This is just the topic on my mind right now.
To Dye or Not to Dye is my dilemma in 2011.
I'm 26 years old and I got my first gray when I was 12. It turned into a fantastic looking gray streak (the trait runs in the family). But, by the time I was 18, the rest started going.
I dyed my hair at 20, just for fun but then realised that growing out half-gray hair from a dye job is just... messy!
After 6 years of dying, I'm sick of it and the chamicals.
And I'm pissed off at the social construct that says only "old women" have gray hair. I know many in their 20s with rather gray hair.
I'm to the point that I get excited when I see more gray in my roots because, as soon as I'm more white than black, I'm going to do it... probably. (And looking into henna dye for now).

Glenda | 9:54 AM

First, you and your mom sound exactly the same. Make the same facial gestures when speaking! How cool is that! I have dark brown hair and I get highlights done about 4x's a year. I like the contrast in colors. I have some gray but it's mostly in the under layer... not visible as I have thick hair. I think growing older gracefully is beautiful and I think that when dying your hair and it looks absolutely fake then it's time to let it go.

Chelsea | 11:54 AM

I love how you put it "set yourself free!" that's so good.

I was quite annoyed with someone I know who recently got a boob job and a tummy tuck when I've had to work hard to get back to close-to pre-baby body. I just found it annoying and irritating. I didn't want to ask her what size she got or make a big deal about it, but really I was quite annoyed! Yep, the doc made her stomach perfect! NO Stretch marks, no flabby skin, nothing. She looked like she was 14 again. awesome.

Oh well, I know that I've gotten great satisfaction knowing that what I got, i got by working hard-that makes me feel better. And, I'm not 8,000 dollars poorer.

Alex | 12:46 PM

I have seen a lot of women (and men) with gray hair and its looks fantastic. I personally can't wait to see how I look with gray hair and I'm excited to see my husband with gray hair (which will be here sooner then I think I'm sure). I think women who let their hair go gray looks chic & sexy.

mommymae | 1:08 PM

i posted about my hair (coloring, which i haven't done & cutting, which i have) in november. it was good wear days response, actually.

http://mommymae.com/?p=1388

i'm too lazy and cheap to color my hair & have no immediate plans to do it. plus, the time it would take to do it hurts my brain. i don't have that amount of time. does that mean i judge others? no way! do what you do & rock it.

Sheila | 3:00 PM

WOW you look like your mom. I let my gray grow out for a while. I really like the gray but I HATE the "real" color of my hair...a dull brown. The woman who does my hair refuses to dye my hair brown and then put in gray ;)

Jessica | 6:12 PM

Your mom's hair is truly beautiful, but I think it's her confidence that really makes it. You said that once she let her hair go gray that she felt like herself, and I think that is the key. We all see ourselves in a certain way, and I think we spend a lot of our time and energy trying to make others see us in that way.

I can definitely identify with the idea of growing into yourself, kind of like your mom. The older I get, the more I feel like myself. I guess you could call that "comfortable in your own skin," but I know I still don't feel that way all the time. I'm in my late 20s, and sometimes I feel like my youth is slipping away, but I have a friend who turned 40 last year, and she said that 40 made her feel really "cool," almost like she was playing this massive joke on the world. 40 is supposed to make you feel old, but it made her feel cool. I like that.

Renee | 6:23 PM

I just turned 26, and I find gray hairs all over my head. I first found a gray hair when I was 18 and visiting my boyfriend (at the time) at his college (mortifying!). You know what I do? I pluck them out with tweezers! And I will continue to do that until there are too many to pluck. When that day comes, I will decide if I'm going to "let it go" or start forking out the bucks to a salon to hide it.

Eva | 9:33 AM

Love this: "'I let myself go' is just another way of saying 'I set myself free.'"

What a liberating thought. Thank you.

Amanda | 11:45 AM

I've been dying my hair reddish for a couple years now simply because I like how it makes me feel. I always thought my previous mousy brown hair didn't do anything for me so I changed it. But I'm also not afraid of going gray. Especially once I start getting older. I want my hair to be like Anjelica Huston's, streaked with gray.

I wish more women would accept age gracefully. There is nothing appealing to me about women in their 50's, 60's Botoxing, lifting, lasering and peeling away every inch of their person. We're human! Contents settle and change with time.

There was this Devendra Banhart lyric that struck me in the car this morning and I've decided to make it my mantra-
"I wanna see you be the one whose first light
Harbours in the new day
And see you settle into yourself
And never be afraid"

Here's to settling into our real selves!

Anonymous | 8:10 PM

how come you blog so infrequently all of a sudden?

Anonymous | 8:11 AM

Guys do similar things like shaving their heads rather than admit to male pattern baldness.
Have you ever gone out in public without makeup? Just wash your face, brush your hair and go out looking like... your real, unadorned self?

jill (smyth) | 7:15 PM

Dub, dub, dub = Beautiful, Nummy, Hero. More please.

Pretty Lips? You're next for the hottie food wagon.

<3

And seriously, the word verification was gunLOL. How inappropriate GOOGLE!

Nicole | 8:34 PM

You are so full of awesome. I really appreciate your voice, your humor and your capacity to distill our modern trappings in a way that makes me look at the world just a tiny bit differently. Thanks for that.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 11:40 PM

You're all awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your opinions, experiences. I think it's such a rich topic - one that so many of us feel conflicted about so it's fantastic hearing your feelings on the subject. You all win.

K∂riиє* Smith. | 8:00 AM

I jhave to say, Your mum is awesome , she is soooooo pretty!

danielle | 7:09 PM

i meant to comment on this the first day i read ... never did, but had to come back to say 'i love this!'. i'm 34 and i'd say 1/3of my locks are gray ... i started with gray hair when i was in high school ... then it turned into what i call 'the nightmare on elm street streak' - (from the original :)) ... and now the streaking is all over. right now i don't think i will dye it ... just because i kinda like it & it's not in my nature to keep up with hair dying. but i will say it is amazing how many people comment on it, kind words. it typically takes me a second to realize what they are talking about ... because it is just a part of who i am.
fun topic & you & your ma are beautiful!

Mags | 1:15 AM

Speaking from a younger point of view... since I turned 21, I've been noticing quite a few gray strands sneaking their way into my tresses.. not cool.

However, I feel like those strands have added a tiny bit of sophistication (is that even a word?) into my general appearance, so I don't mind much. :) I've never understood why ladies make such a big deal over it.. it's hair. I think a full head of gray hair is glorious. Gray and white goes with everything in your wardrobe. Huge plus in my book.

Meg | 8:48 PM

Yes. Just, yes.

I started greying at 23, when I started having massive health problems. So for me my grey (I'm now about 1/4 grey at 30) was a reminder of problems with my health. So when I finally was able to afford to start dying it a year or so ago, it was really empowering.

That said, once I'm totally white? (because while I say grey, I'm really going awesomely white) I'm streaking it Platinum and going Helen Mirren on that sh*t. I can't wait. Talk about empowering.

So for me it's about choices, and being able to make them for myself. That's where the power comes.

Shannon @ MiOrganicBeauty.com | 1:02 AM

Thanks for sharing a great post. I started getting grays at about 27 (same age my mum went gray - also in the same areas). While I use organic color to cover them up, there's definitely a part of me that would love to just let them be. I think it also comes back to how you style your hair if you do choose to embrace the grays - and how you wear it: Confidence can make anything you wear look beautiful (with a few exceptions, I'm sure:-)

Natural health pioneer Ann Wigmore actually rid her gray hair by making rejuvelac from wheat berries. I'm making and taking both rejuvelac from cabbage and wheat berries, simply for digestive health, but will keep you posted on how it affects the grays! I'm going to be posting some great rejuvelac recipes, so feel free to visit www.miorganicbeauty.com soon for details.

Mom101 | 4:26 PM

Don't you just love our confident, silver-haired mamas? May we be them when we grow up in every way.

Michelle DW | 6:20 AM

I'm just glad to see people talking about it. I'm 29 and just found my first grey hairs, and it totally freaked me out, I think because I wasn't expecting it! I honestly didn't think I'd get grey hair until my 50s! The same goes for my breasts after breast feeding, they just aren't the same anymore and it was the shock from not expecting it to happen that was so difficult. Why didn't I know to expect these things at my age? If we could all just be honest about what happens to our bodies, whether we decide to cover the grey or not, we should at least not try to hide it from one another- that only causes more insecurities for women who are completely shocked when these changes happen to them!
Great topic!

Amy | 1:00 PM

I have been reading for a long time, and I adore your blog, but I rarely comment. I just have to tell you that I love this post. Thank you for writing it.